Revised DARE Program to Question ‘Social Norms’ About Illicit Drug Use
Acknowledging that the widely used DARE program -- Drug Abuse Resistance Education -- has not had a "sufficient impact" on discouraging students from using drugs, program officials are releasing a new curriculum today that will focus on high school rather than elementary school students and will question them on "their assumptions about drug use" rather than relying on lectures, the New York Times reports. Created in 1983 by the Los Angeles Police Department, DARE is now taught in 75% of the nation's school districts, using police officers who lecture students about the "dangers of drugs and the importance of self esteem." But two widely cited studies have found that the program's effect on deterring drug use "disappears" by the time students enter their senior year of high school or begin college. In addition, the Department of Education, which distributes about $500 million in drug prevention grants each year, last year said it would no longer allow schools to use the funds on DARE because the program is not "scientifically proven." As a result, DARE officials have spent the last two years developing a new curriculum for the program. Instead of relying on lectures, DARE will challenge "social norms" among students. Specifically, the program will challenge the notion -- reinforced by the messages of traditional prevention programs -- that drug use is so widespread among teenagers that it is the "norm," leading teens to think they must use drugs as a way to "fit in" with peers.
While the old program was targeted at elementary school students, the new version will "shift" its focus to middle and high school students, as older students are "more likely to experiment with drugs." The new DARE also will use police officers more as coaches than as lecturers, so that students may "conclude on their own" that they do not need drugs. In addition, the program will involve role-playing sessions designed to teach decision-making skills and the effects of media and advertising. Nancy Kaufman, vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which helped underwrite the development of the revisions, said, "We knew we had better prevention technology that was not being applied, we knew there was this increase in drug use among young people, and we said, 'You know what, we think we can change this. Let's stop the rhetoric and fighting and see if we can't craft something better.'" The new program is "tentatively" set to be tested in 80 high schools and the 176 middle schools that "feed them" in New York, Baltimore, Houston, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles (Zernike, New York Times, 2/15).